Stringent Government Rules Can Turn Deadly

Washington, D.C., July 5, 2007— Thirty years ago today Ralph Nader held a news conference to tout the Department of Transportation’s decision to require air bags in cars. He had an unbelted three-year-old girl pose in front of an air bag simulator to debunk auto industry contentions that air bags could be dangerous to children. But Nader turned out to be wrong—dead wrong. Today, on the thirtieth anniversary of that historic news conference, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is bringing up this event as Congress once again considers making another lethal regulation even deadlier—as it debates raising fuel economy standards.

Numerous studies demonstrate that the federal CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) program kills people through its downsizing of vehicles. In fact, in 2001, a National Academy of Sciences study found that CAFE contributes to an additional 2,000 traffic deaths each year. Advocates of more stringent CAFE rules typically deride the safety claim as being an “auto industry argument,” brought by the same companies that opposed air bags.

In fact, the air bag battle was not over the devices themselves, but over the federal government’s decision to mandate them. In the late 1990s, as cars with the first generation of mandated air bags became widespread, it became clear that the industry had been right and that Nader was wrong. The devices proved to be a net danger to children, killing approximately 150 of them through 2002. The government had to revise both its specifications for air bags and its warning labels in order to reduce the hazard. Several Nader-affiliated organizations opposed these revisions.

"The lethal effects of existing fuel economy standards have been amply documented by the National Academy of Sciences and other authorities," says Sam Kazman, CEI’s general counsel. "But as the history of the air bag mandate demonstrates, dismissing CAFE-safety concerns as an ‘industry argument’ can be one very deadly mistake."

CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information about CEI, please visit our website at